Journey Through a Pazo Winery in Rias Baixas

12/05/2011 11:54

The wines of the Rias Baixas in Galicia are steeped in ancient tradition. Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean on one side and lush green landscapes on the other, Spain’s demure white wine region rocks. But unlike the Rioja, its famous neighbor to the west, the Rias Baixas is not as high profile. Yet a journey through this region’s wineries, some anchored by elegant manor houses, inspires the promise of a return visit.

Val do Salnes, north of Pontevedra, is just one of three wine producing regions that make up the Denominacion de Origen Rias Baixas. These regal wineries dot the bucolic landscape. Vines look like canopies suspended above ground through wire trellises. The intent, we’re told, is to protect the vines from cold and humidity.

On a recent group tour, our wine journey began with a reception in Cambados, the capital of the Albariño wines. The grape has a storied history in Galicia, which dates to the 12th century and the arrival of French Cluny monks. Other historians believe it was German settlers who brought the grape from the Rhine region. But the proud people of this northwestern region of Spain believe Albariño is a native grape.

Regardless of its history, Albariño wines are drinking in accolades while luring tourism through the annual Albariño wine festival held on the first Sunday in August. The festival celebrates the Albariño grape, which resembles the United States’ Thompson grape. The Rias Baixas wine region offers a thrilling escape from other technology infused destinations through a smattering of wine enriched towns, including Padron, O Grove, Vilagarcia de Arousa, and Pontevedra.

Chief among the wineries of note is Pazo Quinteiro de Cruz. Situated in this exquisite valley of wineries, Pazo uses only estate-grown grapes to produce its Albariño wines. Because of Pazo’s desire to produce quality white wines, it limits its annual production to 20,000 a year. The Baroque-style Pazo anchors a sprawling 7-acre wine business that produces three popular Albariño wines: Quinteiro da Cruz, Quinteiro de Cruz Allier and Quinteiro da Cruz late harvest. Its label is becoming synonymous with great white wines the world over.

Galicia, in northern western Spain, continues to promote the speaking of its native language, Gallego. But Spanish and English is spoken throughout the Rias Biaxas wine region. Pazo mean “manor house” when translated from Gallego. Galicia’s heritage dates to the time of the Celtic invasion of the Spanish region. In fact, the music of bagpipes is still commonly heard; it’s the music of choice for proud Galicia natives. To understand the terroir, which is so often mentioned in talking about taste and quality of wines, it’s important to know about the region’s culture. The language is an integral part of the Galicia heritage. So “Ria” means river in Gallego and “Baixas” means low. Combined, Rias Baixas denotes a region is in the low rivers area.

Pazo Quinteiro de Cruz was built in 1790, and still retains much of its original stone structures. Strolling among magnolias and cedar trees feels as if we’re in a botanical garden instead of a family-run winery. While there are several Pazo based wineries in Lois Ribadumia, a county near Pontevedra, the Quinteiro estate is unique. In 1975, Victoriano Pineiro Acosta was contracted to breathe new life into the gardens of the Pazo Quinteiro. When his work was completed in 1980, the staid manor became a magnet for camellia lovers. Tourists from Spain and other countries now flock to the camellia-dominated winery annually.

An ocean of colorful camellias, about 1,000 in variety, surrounds Albariño vineyards on all sides of the property. The impressive manor is flanked by an ancient, stone horreo. It is a granary that bears a large cross and resembles a small church. Horreos, which dot the wine country landscape, are used to store and protect harvested crops from varmints.

From the manor house veranda we’re led to a nearby wine cellar. The walls are lined with dusty bottles of wine sporting the name of this grandiose Pazo. Shutter bugs jokey one another for a shot of the rows of vintage wines. We sample an Albariño, whose notes conjure images of green apples, apricots and pear. At the same time, this wine exudes earthiness with hints of limestone and bedrock. Low in alcohol, this fruity white floral wins over a diverse group, which hails from as far away as China.

The tour guide emphasizes that the manor house has a 400-year history that is inexorably tied to the region’s history, culture and folklore. This is a land that has more in common with Ireland, Wales, Scottland and Britain than with Spain. Evidence of superstitious beliefs can be found in chapel vineyards stone crosses, fountains and the like. Armed with this knowledge, we proceed, assured that our thirst for more Albariño will be quenched en route to each of the half-dozen Pazo-based wineries.

Rosie Carbo is a Dallas freelance writer and former newspaper reporter. Her work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News and several national publications. She’s a wine lover and avid traveler.